Monday, April 04, 2016

Voigtländer Vitomatic II

A friend recently passed along this nice Voigtländer Vitomatic II to me.  The camera shows little signs of use since it was made in 1959.  The rangefinder patch is a little dim and the vertical alignment is off, but it still works pretty well. All the normal shutter speeds look close to accurate.  The most impressive feature of the camera is the very fine F2.8/50mm Color Skopar lens.  I was pleased to get the Vitomatic as the precursor Vito II with the Color Skopar is probably my favorite camera and I did not have a representative of this crucial develpment period in camera history.

All the other major German camera manufacturers including Zeiss Ikon, Agfa, and Braun made similar cameras for the upscale amateur market with coupled rangefinders and selenium light meters.  There was also quite a race underway between German and Japanese companies at the time to see who could come up with the most advanced features.  Subsequent models of the Vitomatic, for instance, would add exposure read-outs to the viewfinder and faster shutters.  However, in spite of the advancements in feature additions, 1959 would turn out to be a watershed year in the camera industry as the Japanese surged ahead from there in terms of both design and price competitiveness.

I tend to prefer the more compact design of the earlier Vito folding cameras, but that compactness probably was not sustainable for adding the coupling for the rangefinders and light meters.  Even with much of the focusing, shutter and aperture mechanism moved out to the protruding lens mount of the Vitomatic, the additional mechanism under the top deck became very dense.  As a result, present day restorers and users of the camera will encounter some difficulties in making repairs and adjustments.  The weight to size ratio also took an upward leap; the Vitomatic feels at first heft like it might be crafted from depleted uranium.

I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into the Vitomatic and took it to Albuquerque's Rio Grande Zoo.

The smiles on the faces of the kids riding the zoo's new carousel brought back happy memories of the extraordinary exhilaration of that experience.


Jim Grey said...

I'm not a huge fan of how these tall chrome-topped cameras feel in my hands. I've had several pass through my collection, but only two are still in it, one Voigtlander and one Zeiss Ikon, and only because their lenses are so interesting. That said, I finally did shoot my Vito II and I kept wishing for an onboard meter. I guess I'm just hard to please.

Mike said...

The Vitomatic is only about a quarter inch taller than the Vito II, and it is not as wide. The big lens does make quite a bulge in the pocket, however.

I'm not sure how much of the design is attributable to functionality and how much to purely styling considerations. If you look at cars from the same era you can see some style convergence. Some cameras by Japanese makers underwent a similar design evolution in terms of size and finish, but they also simultaneously pursued other avenues such as the miniaturization of the Maitani Olympus cameras.